“This will hurt. You have been taught the wrong message for so long that a lie has become the truth. You were told that vulnerability is distasteful. You have been warned to hold it together, pull up your bootstraps, suck it up, and grow up. You have been ashamed by your accumulated definition of weakness…..” – Unknown
Again for two days in a row I feel like this excerpt was written about me, it’s a message for me about how I have allowed vulnerability and weakness to be who I am or who I have grown into. When I look back and write about how I was raised and the environments that affected my life and who I am I realise how much that was said to me, the messages that came through were wrong and unfairly created some of the demons inside my head and changed my personality, attitude and behaviours forever, well it feels like it will be forever.
When you are young and growing up you are taking in so much information around you, you are like a sponge that absorbs everything but at the same time because of your age you are unable to recognise what information is wrong, a lie, or simply something that should not be said. As we grow older our absorption of all this information and the environment around us contribute to not only who we are as a person but our self beliefs, confidence, self-esteem, and more importantly our self-talk.
As a child or a teenage growing up your parents teach what is appropriate to say and what isn’t, if you say something inappropriate you are reminded not to say that or you a told off, all of which lead us to understand what the right and wrong things to say and talk about are. This is all fair enough after all how else do we establish etiquette, manners, and culture but in this same regard how do those we are taught from, the messages that we absorb during this time of valuable learning, expect us to grow up as a confident person with a strong self-esteem and who has a positive disposition when we are given mixed messages. Messages that tell us that if we show signs of vulnerability or weakness then we should be ashamed of ourselves, or messages that tell us to suck it up, grow up or pull it together in response to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour actually target a vulnerable part of who we are and what we may be going through. What if in fact the reason we are so vulnerable is that the people around us are telling us that we have to be strong, that we need to pick up our game, that we don’t talk about our problems, and that we are weak when this is the case. Not only are these lies but they are the very essence in which our personality, attitude, confidence and self esteem are built, and more importantly they are the factors that contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.
So many of my problems, issues, and guilt are built from messages, comments and feedback that I absorbed growing up, believing them to be true, and believing that I was weak, not good enough, and deserving of anything that happened to me. This was confirmed again when I married and was in a relationship with someone that thought these messages were required as a means of controlling the relationship, of leaving me in a position of vulnerability, and instilling in me a self belief system that would not only contribute to my depression and anxiety but influence the direction of my life. As a employee in a number of different work environments the treatment of me, the unnecessary criticisms, comments, and negative feedback once again confirmed to me that I was just not up to it, that I was weak, vulnerable and useless. Until recently I have felt like every aspect or part of my life has in some way contributed to my feelings of weakness, vulnerability and worthlessness.
Over many years I have defined what it is for me to be a weakness infiltrating my mind to the extent that it has become my belief system, my self-talk, and my behaviour. Not only has it left me extremely vulnerable and has completely destroyed my resilience to bounce back from adversity. I am left in a position where my self-talk at times can consume me, it gives me false beliefs and perceptions of what is going on around me because I automatically assume the negative, that I have done something wrong, or I haven’t been good enough. One of my biggest challenges in recovering from depression is trying to control my self-talk or as Dr Russ Harris recommends in his book The Happiness Trap accept my thoughts for what they are, just thoughts. It is not easy to change your thought patterns after so many years of being told the opposite to what is supposably true, it is not easy trying to build confidence and self-esteem when so easily it can be destroyed again or not rebuilt at all because you just don’t have it in you to believe.
One of the biggest things that parents and people in general can take from this writing is that in the same regard that we tell someone they can’t swear, or what right and wrong is we need to be aware of the messages, comments and feedback we give that can and will affect someone’s life forever. While I would say there is no need for messages that have been previously stated, it happens, but if we actually sit down and think about what we are trying to say and what we want to be the learning the conversation, then we can focus on reframing our thinking to be positive feedback on one hand but providing the tools to change something about ourselves on the other hand. The strongest message I can give is ‘think about what you are going to say and ask yourself is this comment going to affect this person for the rest of their lives.’